10 Reasons for Exploring a Preservation Option for the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater
Contributed By: The Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater
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Dear Chautauquans and Friends of Chautauqua:
As the Board of Trustees prepares to meet this Saturday, we would first like to thank all of the Amp’s supporters. This campaign could not have been accomplished without you! We’d also like to thank the preservation advisory panel for its excellent work and the National Park Service for recommending that Chautauqua Institution assemble this expert panel. Now, we strongly urge the Board of Trustees to act on its findings.
Following are 10 reasons why we support a pause in the process to follow the panel’s recommendations:
1. The existing structure is safe and can be modernized. This crucial fact has been lost amid all the commentary about the engineer’s report and tactics used during the Amp meetings and tours which emphasized its safety hazards -- all of which can be addressed.
2. The massive demolition project presents significant risks and challenges that the Institution appears ill-equipped to handle. These include the impacts on mature trees, underground utilities, and likely winter delays. Private homes and denominational houses along the construction route and around the Amp are at risk, as well.
3. The new design takes the wrong approach. The new building does not meet Secretary of Interior standards, which essentially prohibit replicas. The design, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Paul Goldberger, is “a mediocre and banal attempt to copy the Amp in the most superficial way.”
4. Costs are spiraling. In 2012, the cost was estimated at no more than $20 million. That cost has nearly doubled now, and that doesn’t include repairs to damaged properties which Chairman Jim Pardo recently promised property owners is the responsibility of the Institution.
5. The negative environmental impact will be significant. Despite sustainability goals, piling the Amp into a landfill, along with mature trees and landscaping, is an incredible waste of resources. The greenest building is the one that already exists.
6. The community is divided. This summer was a missed opportunity to reach a broader consensus.
7. Chautauqua values will be questioned nationally. The Amp will join a handful of sites that were not saved after being listed as one of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which also named the Amp a National Treasure.
8. There is no business case for expanded programming. The Institution has failed to explain how the addition of 400 seats can make much of a difference in its economic sustainability.
9. Loss of public space. By expanding the bowl, the amount of mingling space around the Amp will be greatly reduced, as will sight lines to the stage from the Amp’s perimeter. While these sound like small things, they are a major part of the experience.
10. It is the fiduciary responsibility of the Board to not place the Institution in financially risky positions. There are so many ways a project of this scope can go wrong, and the Board has not done its due diligence by genuinely considering a viable alternative. At the very least, such an option would enable the Board of Trustees to compare and evaluate the cost and benefits of two different approaches.
Throughout the summer, members of the administration have glossed over these questions in order to position the project for approval this week. But this does not mean that these questions have actually been addressed. If you have not written firstname.lastname@example.org and voiced your concerns, please do so now. It is not too late to make a difference.
The Committee to Preserve the Historic Chautauqua Amphitheater
Brian Berg, Steve Davies, and Alicia Berg
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